Silas Marner Questions and Answers
by George Eliot

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  In Silas Marner how does Eliot employ symbolism in order to illustrate the morals?

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Certainly, in Eliot's work, there is a life-likeness to the tale of Silas Marner that is not mitigated by the symbols; rather, as in real life, they underscore the true values in life.

  • Lantern Yard

As a symbol of Marner's stringent and unforgiving past, Lantern Yard--ironically named as it symbolizes darkness--creates a pall over the life of the lonely weaver. For, he has been scarred by the superstitious and cruel rejection of the community where he worked and felt that he belonged. In the second part of the narrative in which Marner finally analyzes what has occurred in Lantern Yard, the weaver experiences "a spiritual thaw."  His return to his former home marks his break with the past as he views an industrialized community in which tradition and its remembrances have been erased, symbolized by razing of the chapel and the subsequent erection of a factory.

When Silas realizes that he will never know "whether they got at the truth o' the robbery...," he tells Dolly as they depart,

Since the time the child was sent to me and I've come to lover her as myself, I've had light enough to trusten by....

  • the loom

Symbolic of the detrimental effects of machinery over nature, the loom becomes the center of Silas Marner's life. As he becomes more bent and myopic, Marner's character, too, becomes deformed both physically and spiritually, absorbing his very soul as his life remains static and alienated from community.  

However, in the second part of the novel, the loom changes in its significance as it begins to symbolize the interweaving of threads of life as little Eppie enters Marner's life and he begins to interact with the community of Raveloe, and he becomes accepted and loved by the people.

  • gold

When Marner becomes obsessed with the accumulation of gold, the money symbolizes the material as opposed to the spiritual. This obsession with gold is the death of Marner's soul as he desires nothing else. On the other hand, the golden hair of the baby connects Marner to the natural world and enriches his soul as she brings Marner back into the community of men and nature.

The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, tending to nothing beyond itself; but Effie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward and carried them far away from their old eager facing towards the same blank limit. . . . The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer...but Effie called him away from his weaving and made him think all its pauses a holiday— re-awakening all his senses with her fresh life....

  • the hearth

As in many a narrative set in before industrialized times, the hearth is the center of the home, symbolizing warmth, life, comfort, and love. At the Rainbow Inn, the residents sit around the hearth and the more prestigious members of the community are seated closer to the fire, indicating their importance to the life of Raveloe.

When Godfrey contemplates being able to marry Nancy, he visualizes happiness around the image of the hearth:

with all his happiness centred on his own hearth, while Nancy would smile on him as he played with the children.

And, whereas Marner's hearth has been empty, it is the glow of it that attracts the orphaned baby who crawls into the cottage seeking this light and warmth. Previously, Dunsey Cass has been attracted to the hearth's inviting life, so Silas's hearth has brought him both misfortune and fortune and its accompanying redemption.


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